I’m convinced toddlers are trained in vegetable avoidance via some kind of university distance learning course. Modules also include ‘Strops, tantrums and hysterics’, ‘picking your nose in public’ and ‘techniques for crayoning randomly around the home’.
I attempt to smuggle vegetables into my daughter’s meals with varying degrees of success. I sometimes go for the straightforward approach and just put cooked vegetables on the plate (too blatant! Always left uneaten). Another ploy is to try to hide them in pasta sauces (Oh no. She’s spotted them. Look how dexterously she can remove them from the sticky spaghetti and simply ingest the carb). Recently, I managed to get her to eat carrot sticks by devising a cunning crunching competition.
The other day we were at a friend’s house and she made soup for lunch. I confidently predicted that my two-year-old would turn her nose up at this – she doesn’t ‘do’ soup and she is inherently suspicious of vegetables these days. Obviously she overheard me and was hell-bent on showing me up, as she finished the entire bowl full. Needless to say I asked for the recipe immediately.
This recipe makes a huge pot load and is chock full of vegetables. Just look at all those vegetables. Funnily enough, this soup does not include any red pepper. I’m not sure why I put it in the photo; he’s a vegetable gatecrasher. He was there, all red and shiny. He looked like he wanted to get involved. I let him in the shot, but he didn’t make it into the soup because…well, because he doesn’t belong in this minnestrone. No, he is destined for a spicier fate later this weekend when I chop him into chunks and plunge him headlong into a chilli con carne.
As you are chopping up the veggies for this soup you can’t fail to feel virtuous. Onion, celery, carrot, fennel, spinach, tomatoes, cannellini beans. Each one of those is one of your five a day. Can you hit ALL of your five a day in one dish? Is that allowed?
My daughter declares this to be ‘yummy, mummy’. I think the fact you serve it with a sprinkling of parmesan on top and a chunk of bread has a lot to do with it.
Minnestrone (based on Jamie Oliver’s Early Autumn Minnestrone)
300g tin of cannellini beans
4 rashers smoked pancetta or bacon
2 small red onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
½ a head of fennel, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a small bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stalks separated
2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes
a glass of red wine
2 small courgettes, quartered and sliced
200g spinach, washed and roughly sliced (including stalks)
600ml chicken, ham or vegetable stock
55g dried pasta
a block of Parmesan cheese, to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a good slosh of olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped pancetta or bacon, onions, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic and the basil stalks.
On a low heat, sweat the veggies and bacon slowly, with the lid just ajar, for around 15 minutes until soft. Try not to let it catch and brown – this was hard for me as my hobs are always ridiculously hot no matter how low I turn them. Add the tinned tomatoes, courgettes and red wine and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Now add the spinach, stock and beans. If you are using pasta shapes, you can put them in whole. If using spaghetti, you can snap it into smaller lengths before you add it. Stir and continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with a scattering of basil leaves, a generous sprinkling of parmesan and a big slab of (in a lovely, fuzzy, ideal world) warm, homemade bread. This would also be amazing with a dollop of pesto come to think of it.
As with most things, this soup tastes so much better the day after you make it when the flavours all develop.
This last photo is not great. The light was fading and I was trying to make sure that you could not see how much my cooker needs a good clean.